• The Salvation (2014)

    The Salvation is a Danish western and while this might sound surprising at first sight, The Salvation is easily the best western I have seen in many years and a solid candidate for western of the decade or even of the century. The story revolves around a quiet Danish farmer named Jon Jensen who welcomes his wife and son in the United States of America after years of separation. On the night of their arrival, the peaceful farmer gets savagely beaten up by two thugs. They then proceed to rape his wife in front of their son before killing both of them. Jon Jensen takes his revenge but soon learns that one of the criminals was the brother of an influential local land baron who now plans to kill Jon Jensen. Since the local land baron controls the town and people close to Jon Jensen, he can only rely on his brother and needs to be extremely careful to survive. It soon becomes obvious that either the local land baron or the Danish farmer has to die to end the conflict.

    There are numerous elements that make this movie great. The story is very emotional and gritty but always remains realistic and easy to follow. The settings look absolutely splendid and especially the dirty oil town where the land baron lives with his thugs looks memorable. The camera work is detailed, epic and precise. The atmospheric soundtrack enhances the movie's sinister atmosphere. The action scenes are authentic, gripping and tough. The movie doesn't overuse special effects and goes back to the stylistics of classic westerns from the sixties. The acting performances are absolutely splendid. Mads Mikkelsen who incarnates the quiet protagonist underlines once more that he is one of the greatest contemporary actors. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a charismatic antagonist who really incarnates everything you might dislike about another person. Eva Green plays a silent femme fatale whose intentions aren't always clear and whose development throughout the movie is truly intriguing.

    I have thought long and hard about negative sides of this movie but there simply aren't any. This western is enjoyable from start to finish, not only for western fans but for anyone who likes excellent cinema with vibrant action scenes, intense atmosphere and interesting characters. The Salvation proves that the western genre isn't gone and forgotten yet but can still be entertaining and vibrant in the twenty-first century without denying its roots and style.

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  • Companeros (1970)

    Companeros is one of the most popular Spaghetti Westerns, directed by Sergio Corbucci who was responsible for popular genre movies like Django, The Mercenary and The Great Silence. The starring roles belong to Italian actor Franco Nero of Django and The Day of the Owl fame and Cuban American actor Tomas Milian who appeared in The Ugly Ones and The Big Gundown. The film is often compared to Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as both movies focus on two lonesome outlaws who are trying to make money in the middle of a conflict. There are some important differences between the two films however. Sergio Leone's film takes place during the American Civil War while Companeros is a so-called Zapata Western which takes places during the Mexican Revolution. While Sergio Leone's film features distinguishable cinematography, a memorable soundtrack and multiple tense build-ups, Sergio Corbucci's movie focuses less on cinematography, features a very good but not excellent score by Ennio Morricone and has a more fluid pace instead of multiple climaxes.

    On the positive side, Companeros convinces with charismatic characters in form of a chaotic rebel leader played by Tomas Milian who teams up with a womanizing tongue-in-cheek Swedish arms dealer portrayed by Franco Nero. The two characters have an entertainingly ambivalent relationship. Things are spiced up with a psychopathic antagonist with a wooden arm and a dangerous pet hawk played by American actor Jack Palance. The movie also features German actress Iris Berben as idealistic rebel leader who is briefly romantically involved with the two protagonists. Another positive element of the film is the epic journey that takes the two protagonists from Mexico to the United States of America and back again. The landscapes and settings are beautiful and at times memorable. The historical context is an important part of the movie which portrays the downsides of the Mexican Revolution in a dry and sarcastic manner. Instead of offering a heroic image of the rebels, they are shown drinking, fighting and swearing all the time while intellectual minds are mistreated for egoistic purposes.

    Companeros also has a few downsides which explain why it is a good Spaghetti Western but not among the very best of its kind. The film overstays its welcome with a length of two hours and especially the dragging middle section could have been shortened by at least fifteen to twenty minutes. Moreover, the movie focuses too much on slapstick comedy centered around Tomas Milian's character that takes away from an already quite simplistic story line. The conclusion feels somewhat random and one would have liked to witness a final showdown.

    In the end, fans of Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly should definitely give this film a try. The great actors, stunning landscapes and epic settings pardon for a shallow story line with a few too many slapstick scenes. Companeros is authentic and entertaining but just not a quite memorable and unique film.

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  • Hostiles (2017)

    Hostiles is a quite interesting western that convinces with stunning landscapes, intriguing characters and strong acting performances. The movie has a quite slow pace, so don't expect a vivid American or Italian western from the fifties and sixties. This movie is a drama above all, situated in a historically intriguing period between the American Civil War and the emergency of the Industrial Revolution.

    The story revolves around Captain Joseph Blocker, who has lost many friends and brothers in arms in battles against Apaches and who openly despises them. He tracks them down pitilessly and tells himself that he is doing his duty while people around him start becoming depressed and disillusioned. One day, a colonel gives him a final order before his retirement,direct from the President. Joseph Blocker must escort a dying Cheyenne Chief, his personal arch enemy, as well as his family back to their tribal lands as a sign of reconciliation with the First Nations. The captain, who has always obeyed orders, is about to refuse but is menaced and forced to cooperate. He gathers a few faithful brothers in arms and must also cooperate with some inexperienced rookies around him to go on this dangerous trip. On the way from New Mexico to Montana, the unusual group faces numerous challenges as they face difficult weather conditions, a hostile Comanche party and racist landowners among others. They are joined by numerous other intriguing characters such as a mentally unstable woman who has lost her entire family to the Apaches and a former brother in arms of the captain who is about to be hanged. However, their biggest challenge is to fight their inner demons and overcome their differences in order to survive in hostile territory.

    The movie finds the right balance between violent sequences that focus on the witnesses' reactions rather than graphic elements and clever dialogues between the diversified cast of characters. The most fascinating character is Captain Joseph Blocker, who seems to be a pitiless racist at first sight but who turns out to be a man with a strong moral compass who goes through a coming-of-age on this fateful journey and ends up not only forgiving the Indians for killing his partners but even empathizing and sympathizing with them, ending up defending them beyond duty. His positive development exemplifies the difficult relationship between European settlers and America's First Nations and is ultimately a sign of forgiveness, hope and peace. This positive moral contrasts the quite sinsiter mood of the film with an elevated body count and sensitive topics such as depression, revenge and suicide as many characters shatter under the burden of the challenging order.

    Hostiles is a film that needs some patience and time to unfold but ends up being particularly rewarding thanks to the strong moral behind the sinister mask. Christian Bale, one of the world's greatest actors, even delivers the best performance of his career as tough anti-hero with just as many flaws as strengths. Above all, Hostiles is a film that is profoundly human, in all its sickening darkness interrupted by some rays of light. The perfect ending exemplifies this mixture perfectly. Western and drama fans should experience this film at the cinema and fans of Christian Bale just can't get around this movie either. Hollywood should produce more westerns and less superhero movies.

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  • The Magnificent Seven (2016)

    The Magnificent Seven is the remake of a remake that neither has the epic intensity of the original ''Seven Samurai'' movie by Kurosawa Akira from 1954 nor the outstanding acting skills portrayed in John Sturges' ''The Magnificent Seven'' from 1960. Still, this new version offers a fast-paced ride involving great actors, gripping action scenes and fitting settings that bring back the spirit of a cool genre that has gone out of vogue over the past four decades to a new generation.

    The different characters are introduced in short but fitting ways. They are unique and likable enough to make the audience care about them. Veteran Denzel Washington convinces as cool and clever law enforcer with a mysterious past and plays a strong lead character in his very first western. Chris Pratt convinces as cunning and humorous gambler underlining his status as one of the best young American actors. Vincent d'Onofrio stands out as cranky and quirky trapper and proves once again that he is one of the best choices to play odd and unusual characters. Ethan Hawke does a respectable job as haunted sharpshooter but it would have been interesting to get some more background information about his versatile character. The other actors and actresses are solid but have the problem to portray somewhat stereotypical characters such as the silent Asian killer, the proud Mexican assassin, the courageous Indian practising strange rituals or the brave young widow determined to seek justice and revenge. While the diversity of the cast might attract a larger audience, it feels somewhat forced and definitely unrealistic from a historic point of view.

    The first hour is dedicated to the introduction of the seven gunslingers, the mistreated villagers and the pitiless villains in an entertaining way. The second hour is almost entirely based upon the showdown between the gunslingers and the villagers on one side and the villain's private army trying to reconquer the village on the other side. The battle scenes are quite diversified and intense involving numerous gun fights, a very destructive Gatling gun, archery shots, explosions with dynamite, knife throwing, numerous traps and some hand-to-hand combat. Despite its length, the final battle never gets redundant. Some of the fights seem to be unrealistically exaggerated in the beginning but end up being more grounded ad realistic towards the end. Despite its generous rating, there is a lot of violence in these scenes and both sides of the belligerents have a heavy price to pay. It only fits the traditional western genre that both heroes and villains aren't invincible and politically correct but actually swearing, smoking, killing, drinking and dying in this movie. Those who were afraid to get a politically correct contemporary plastic product might be relieved that this film actually respects the original movie and its first remake as well as the style of several western classics from the sixties. 

    In the end, there isn't anything wrong with this entertaining movie. Both traditional western aficionados and younger generations should enjoy this fast-paced western with its authentic settings, intriguing characters and furious action scenes. While this revamped version is missing Kurosawa's epic storytelling or the stunning performances by legendary actors such as Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson in the first remake, this new interpretation comes surprisingly close to the quality of these two movies and is worth to be watched at your local movie theatre.

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  • The Hateful Eight (2015)

    ''The Hateful Eight'' is a typical Quentin Tarantino movie. It has a slow build-up that carefully introduces the eight different characters. The dialogues are very elaborated and mix crude vocabulary with more intellectual expressions to create an emotional balance. The tension of the movie is based on the cold landscapes, the long dialogues, the restricted setting, the excellent gloomy soundtrack and an overall simple yet efficient story with a little twist. It takes nearly two hours before the first main character dies and the killing scenes are then very graphic, purposely exaggerated and chillingly refreshing in contrast to the lengthy conversations. Anyone who knows Quentin Tarantino gets exactly what one can expect from him.

    This factor has its advantages and disadvantages. The dialogues are among the very best in modern Hollywood cinema. The camera techniques are epic, the settings add to the atmosphere of the film and the score composed by Ennio Morricone is great. The eight characters are unique and very different from each other. They are incarnated by eight actors who really shine in this movie. All of them do an outstanding job but I would like to point the acting of the only female lead character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who perfectly portrays a sneaky, sadistic and opportunistic criminal that constantly tries to manipulate people around her. The relations between the different characters are what makes this movie even more outstanding. Unlikely rivalries and alliances come and go during the movie and none of the characters is predictable.

    On the negative side, the movie is comparable to several previous movies by Quentin Tarantino. In my opinion, the film has too many similarities with his last western ''Django Unchained'', including the setting, discussions about slavery and the Civil War background. Another negative element is the length of the movie. While the film builds up a lot of atmosphere, some momentum gets lost in the middle of the film before the first character dies. The movie could have been shortened by at least twenty to thirty minutes to assure a more fluid experience. Another element that bothered me a little bit was the perspective change in the movie. Right before the climax, the film introduces an entire chapter set in the early hours of the same day that reveals all the twists in about twenty minutes which decreases the impact of the following climax and interrupts the flow of the movie in an odd way. This background story could have been told differently, quicker and especially at a different moment in the movie. 

    In the end, ''The Hateful Eight'' might not be Quentin Tarantino's best movie so far but it's a good or slightly above average film by him. The dialogues of the script are worthy of an Academy Award, the camera, light and sound techniques have both a retro style and are up to modern standards and the actors and actresses deliver some of their very best career performances. If you like westerns, the stunning landscapes and the story are two more reasons for you to adore this movie. If you are looking for a more graphic, short-paced and violent movie, ''The Hateful Eight'' might bore you since the film is unusually long and at points hard to sit through, focuses almost only on dialogues and character developments and only gets physically intense in the last sixth of the movie. Personally, this was one of last year's greatest movies in my opinion but you will only admire this movie if you are familiar with other works of Quentin Tarantino, like western stories and settings and adore elaborated dialogues. 

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